Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Amanda the not-so-Academic

When I was in the fifth grade I was in every club, every organization, played softball, took piano lessons, was in orchestra, Girl Scouts, participated in a youth choir and other various church related activities. I also was relatively afraid of getting into trouble - I say relatively because I have always been willing to get into more trouble than Christina, but less than others (though this has certainly changed over the years). I typically did as I was told. I practiced the piano for half an hour every day and stayed up until I had done all of my homework and it was all correct. My entire life was structured, down to the minute.

At the time of "graduation" I received more awards than everyone in my class. I made the honor roll, I was even "orchestra student of the year" - and my parents had never heard me play the viola before. That was also the only year that I played the viola. I also got a perfect score on my writing SOL (the Virginia standardized test) - the prompt was "write about your favorite place" and I wrote about going to Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's school in Arizona. Do you see what type of kid I was? I was a nerd to the umpteenth degree. And I had manners and I would rather stay in during recess and read than go outside and participate in whatever games were taking place. The aversion I have towards my peers started pretty early.

This kid that I was, she got everyone's hopes up as to what my future would look like. I was on this path headed towards greatness. I wanted to be an architect more than anything and I was always in advanced classes. I started taking French in sixth grade and then took algebra in the eighth grade, and instead of taking art or music for my electives I took engineering courses that were weighted (basically AP elective courses) in the Project Lead the Way program.

It was at this point, my freshman year of high school when my parents could no longer help me with my homework, and all of the activities took a toll. And whatever sheltered world my parents had created around me shattered. Suddenly going from volleyball practice to a piano lesson to a Girl Scout meeting and then staying up all night to do homework wasn't working. So, I quit Girl Scouts. And then softball. And then piano. And then volleyball. And with each activity that I gave up, my parents became disappointed and I began to avoid conversation with them as I knew it would most likely result in their desire for me to be that fifth grader who was capable of, and did, everything. And by the time I was fifteen, I didn't want to do everything. I wanted a life, something unstructured. But all that really resulted from that desire was my disinterest in doing anything academic.

I was in the gifted program, and I was in the same classes as everyone else whose parents had been as involved as mine were their entire lives. There were about thirty of us, we all took French in middle school and we were put in most of the same classes through our senior year of high school. It was during my junior year of high school where I spent the first semester really not doing much of anything in my AP English class. After I scored the highest on the mid-term in the class my teacher took me aside and told me how frustrated she was that I wasn't performing at the level she now knew I was capable of. My cover was blown by some essay about a sarcastic orchestra conductor - apparently the rest of the class didn't catch the tone of the piece we were supposed to analyze.

My senior year, we had do a project for AP Government that required we volunteer for the political campaigns and then write a paper about it. My teach wrote "flippant" next to my grade. I think it was a B, but that's all he wrote.

I recently came across an interim report card from that year, I had a D in English as a result of not turning things in...yet. I got them turned it before the actual report card went out. I'm still amazed at English teacher's willingness to let me turn things in late. I swear I didn't do half the assignments at the end of my junior year, and I went to school even after it was out and my teacher was still there because grades weren't due yet. I would sit at an extra computer in her classroom and do the assignments as she was grading others. She may read this and correct me, I may be wrong, but I swear she would ask me if I was going to do something and if I said yes she would just give me the class average.

Every year it was the same. Every teacher I have ever had that has talked to me for more than five minutes has told me to stop being such a "slacker." By the time I got to VCU, I had gotten by because I knew my teachers and for the most part, they liked me, but more importantly, they put up with me. Except for The Don - whom I will write about later. Anyway, these teachers, mostly English teachers knew I was capable and they did what they could to encourage me. And I'm still in touch with the important ones. When I got to VCU I had to take this awful class that was what they had instead of English 101. It was taught by people from various concentrations and I got stuck with this dude who was working on his Theater PhD or something, anyway he was an actor and we did not get along. He was always telling me that I need to expand things and that I needed to change my attitude and then he made the mistake of telling my class that he graded us based on what he thought we were capable of. So, when we got grades back and I knew that I had written something that was helluva lot better than the girl from Martinsville, Virginia who didn't know the meaning of ambiguous, but she got a better grade than I did, I was furious.

I'm fairly certain that this is why I flunked out of VCU, well part of it anyway. When you're depressed and motivated by liquor and crackers, and then you are getting your lowest marks in the subject that you are used to getting your highest marks - it's frustrating.

I basically started over last semester at the community college in Richmond. And I like it better. Apparently I do better in small classes where the professors know my name and I cannot hide, and my English professor has a PhD in English and gave me a 95 on my first paper. Fucking finally. I know this sounds terrible, but I don't think I've gotten a mark this high on anything since starting college. This was a three page paper that I wrote in about an hour. Perhaps her standards are just really low because it's community college, but whatever, I finally feel like that stupid fifth grader again. Then I got a 101 (with extra credit) on my first history test of the semester. And then I got an 83 (which is a B, but wouldn't have been in high school) on my first Statistics test, a test that I swear I had bombed.

I'm fairly certain that this is a direct result of my general contentment with where my life is right now. I finally live in a healthy environment. I have a fairly healthy relationship with my parents that was not at all possible when I lived at home, and they have stopped badgering me about my studies. I love my job and I'm writing more. But I still feel like this is a cheap joke and that next week my professors will announce that they graded all of those thing incorrectly and that 95 was supposed to be a 59. So, I'm not getting my hopes up, but I am reevaluating my expectations that I have for myself and have learned how to structure my time in a way that is healthy and not overwhelming, at least for me. My roommate saw my schedule and told me that it was insane, apparently making a color-coded excel sheet and putting it on the refrigerator is "OCD." Whatever, it works.

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